Perhaps no other Indian horror movie blends mythology, supernatural, and horror as fluidly as Tumbbad, a film that released in 2015 after being in production for several years. It was cast and recast, shot and re-shot, had logistical and creative hassles, and yet, ultimately the end result was a sparkling movie anchored firmly in a local milieu.
A treat for lovers of mythological horror, Tumbbad was the first Indian film to premiere at the critics’ week section of the 75th Venice International Film Festival. It won over the critics, and swept away three Filmfare Awards.
The film–which was also screened at 8 different international film festivals–grossed a total of ₹13.57 crores, after being released in only 575 screens. To compare, India has over 2,300 screens.
Set in Tumbbad in the 1920s, the story revolves around the three generations of a family facing the consequences when they build a temple for the first-born of a goddess, named Hastar–he who must not be worshiped. Hastar is a terrible entity who can curse a person yet also can grant gold coins.
A grim, moody fable about the ill-effects of avarice, director Rahi Anil Barve’s debut film can well be described as Hindi cinema at its most phantasmagorical. Ship of Theseus-producer Sohum Shah and young Mohammad Samad starred in this visually rich movie that is loosely based on a short story written by Marathi writer Narayan Dharap. The film also gave us one of the year’s most quotable lines: “So ja warna Hastar aa jayega.”
Tumbbad moves away from films where the horror is derived from jump scare, floating girls in white clothes, and screaming witches.
And here, our hero is not fighting the demon and ‘saving’ a town, a girl, or an old house. Rather, the film’s hero is the story that offers a glimpse into human nature.
Shot entirely during the monsoons, Tumbbad harnesses the atmospheric vibe of the Konkan monsoon to create hauntingly eerie frames. Every shot looks like an oil painting has gently come alive.
Tumbbad is many things: an exploration of immorality, a cautionary tale about grief, a silent commentary on patriarchy.
The film trades the campy predictability often prevalent in the genre for a refreshingly modern aesthetic. It is certainly the execution that elevates Tumbbad from being yet another tale of old well told, to something daring and new, and just as scary.
Perhaps the fact that it was assembled by a pool of people who exist in the alternate/indie space helped set its visual language apart—marrying an indie sensibility within a supernatural/horror genre isn’t as common as it sounds. Independent films are often known for their realism, something that Barve and team bought to Tumbbad with terrifying results.
Tumbbad, which was made on a limited production budget of ₹5 crores, was a profitable venture but not a popular one. But it should have been. For an audience demanding more original and relatable content, Rahi Anil Barve’s Tumbbad is your answer.